Sunday, December 30

Kitchen Adventures

We had such a lovely Christmas with friends and loved ones. I didn't bother trying to take many pictures on Christmas Day - that was my "gift" to my family. I'm not a fun photographer, and it's just no fun to have Beulah Balbricker yelling at you on Christmas. So. That was fun.

But I *did* get some pictures of Em (aka: The Compliant One) as she put her Christmas gift from MeWa and MeTae to good use.

They brought her a little bag of kitchen goodies - some mixes, a pretty little apron, her own whisk and spatula - Oh, she was elated!

And keeping the camera in my hands forced, erm, helped, me to let her do it all on her own. That was important, in keeping with the spirit of the gift.

We had a really good time.

Thanks, MeWa and MeTae!

I hope your Christmas brought you together with people you love, to do good things and make lovely memories!

Kiss those babies!

Monday, December 24

An Early Christmas

It's 11:07, and we're done! Stockings stuffed, Santa gifts laid out, cookies eaten. Normally, it's a little after one in the morning before we get this far.

The difference this year? Jacob is in on the project instead of us having to wait for He Of The Iron Will to fall asleep. Now we have three Christmas Eve helpers. In just a few more years, it'll be a full-blown party when Santa stops by! They grow up quickly, but it doesn't have to be sad. There are so many neat ways to enjoy them, no matter their ages.

However, now that nobody's looking, I do believe Z and I are going to call it a Date Night and watch a movie. Alone. (It's a Christmas Miracle!)

Kiss those babies, and have a Blessed Christmas,

Sunday, December 23

A Hobbity Holiday Outing

We saw The Avengers earlier this year, and we try to keep treks to the theater to a minimum (it's SO expensive!), but we really wanted to see The Hobbit in theaters, too. So we splurged and called it a Christmas present. The three older boys - who have all read the book many times and know and love the story, and I - who would watch Martin Freeman read electric bills - hit the theater on Friday afternoon.

They are so fun to be out and about with, but I think on this outing, Jacob was the most fun. You could see the frustration on his face at every change and deviation. He'd whisper the original to me, then glance my way, as if to say, "You see that, right?" I started to worry that this had been a bad idea (while also quietly celebrating how dearly he loves the written word. I admit it.) The screen went black, the lights came up, and then you could hear a lone little voice gasp (had he not been breathing this whole time?) and whisper-shout, "That. Was. Awesome!"

Yeah. It was. It so was.

We thought it would be fun to make it a Full Adventure for the Whole Family, so I got tickets for Zorak to take the Littles to Santa's Village at the Early Works Museum while we were at the show. The program material said there would be crafts, programs, Santa's reindeer, an elf workshop. It sounded neat. Guess it turned out to be a bit of a dud (no real crafts, or interactive or hands-on activities, but plenty of stations with different winter scenes to take pictures in various settings. At $5 a head, they at least paid for the cut-out snowman, right? Weird.) The reindeer were cold and sleepy. But the letters to Santa were hilarious (Jase marked that he had been both Naughty and Nice), and Z did enjoy the time with them. They consoled themselves with sushi and miso soup while they waited for our show to let out.

We ate sushi, too, because really, who turns down the chance to eat? Then we drove through the Galaxy of Lights at the Botanical Gardens. The wait in line was about 45 minutes. The drive through, itself, was nearly an hour. It was beautiful, but I'll tell you, if you want to enjoy the full experience, let me know and you can borrow Jase. He was like this at the sight of every. single. display.


We didn't think he could keep up that level of intensity for long, but we were wrong. He did start to short out a bit at the end, but he was still at full-throttle. It was magnificent. I'd happily pay $20 for anything that elicits that response.

Then we hit Krispy Kreme. The light was on. We were distracted by the pretty doughnuts. It was worth it.

We didn't manage to get a picture of the family, but everyone wore their non-holey, non-camo clothes just in case there was a random photo shoot. Three of the kids were sound asleep before we hit the edge of town. We pulled into the drive around midnight, feeling our ages, but really glad we ran with it. The movie was fun, the food was good, the lights were pretty. Most of all, though, the kids are neat, and they are so much fun to be around. The whole outing turned out to be more of a gift to myself than to them. It was a good gift.

Kiss those babies!

Wednesday, December 19

Learning in the New Year

I've been quiet about our plan since the Big Epiphany. Sorry about that. We were thinking, and working, and wondering how to pull this off. I still don't have a taker for the Committee Chair position, but I'm hopeful. Beyond that, though, I think we have eliminated much of the extraneous mess and have a good, solid plan in place.

Starting in January, we have three strong, traditional, academic days a week carved out. These days will carry the brunt of the hard labor - the math, languages (both foreign and domestic), and the science and history. We still have to go through the lesson plans and make sure this will work, but it looks good.

Wednesdays will be our heavy literature day. I'm considering making some Ozzy or Metallica book covers to go with it, and of course I've got a soundtrack in my head. This will be a day of reading, music, reading, and literature discussion. We will probably re-institute afternoon tea for wrapping things up. History is still tied to literature, so there's a thread of continuity, there. And we already have memory cards in a travel case that we've been using for foreign language and poetry, which we'll use on Wednesdays, as well.

Fridays - and this is where we went off the rails a bit, but I think it could work - Fridays will be our Independent Learning Days. This is the day the boys take charge and lead us on adventures they want to explore. We have Cubs in the mornings, and one Friday a month we have Skate Day, which is only slightly less inviolable than, say, Easter. So we needed to find a way to work with Fridays that wouldn't make the entire day a wash. The boys are old enough, and engaged enough, that I decided to give this day to them. This is the day we'll hit museums, do volunteer work, visit artisans and shops. This will be the day for projects - to make movies or write games, to build models or develop interpretive dance routines based on the Abyssinian military model. Whatever. And I've given the boys a heads up that there are plenty of things *I* want to learn about, so if they don't step up and make suggestions, well, then we're going to have an entire semester of architectural history and more literature!

We've discussed how often people complain that learning this or that is dumb, yet when you give them leave to study things that aren't "dumb", they don't know what they want to learn. They cannot fathom that learning is fun, or that you can sometimes wield your own carrot and stick. There's a disconnect between the mere idea of learning and the joy that it brings. Mine don't, and I appreciate that -- although they've been known to express skepticism about the validity of a lesson or two, they acknowledge that there's probably shizzle they aren't privy to, and they trust me -- that good faith goes a long way. Still, I want to make certain we keep those two ideas connected, without sacrificing the rigor of a quality education, or sucking the joy of a delightful journey from them. We lost some of that this past year, and we aim to get it back. (Way to set the bar at just the right height for a good clotheslining, huh? I hope it doesn't take us down. We'll see.)

And there we are. Now to get to the lesson plans and shuffling of the shelves. Zorak has agreed to build a coat rack for the new dining room similar to the one in the foyer, but with a shelf below it where we can stage our things for each day's adventures. (Now that we use the balcony to come and go, the foyer is less relevant and ends up being more of an open-sided storage cubby than a functional staging platform, so this will be great!) Theoretically, we are set for a fantastic year ahead!

Kiss those babies!

Tuesday, December 18

90% Done!

Which, for us, is like 110% done. We seldom get this far. I still have the kick plate to put back on, and the wood putty in the nail holes is drying. We may, or may not, get those dealt with in 2013. For now, though, here it is -- The Window!

It's like having a whole new kitchen! We'll add upper cabinets, now, and put up the beadboard ceiling and trim, and then... I think that's it. The inside will be, dare I say it? :whispers: Complete. That's hard to comprehend. Oh, no. No, I take that back. The boys' bedroom windows still need to be replaced, Em's room needs new carpet, and we need screen doors. OK, that feels more like it. (I'm not sure I'd know how to behave in a finished home!)

So, I tried to find the original before photos of the kitchen, but it looks like I'd uploaded them to a Flickr account, which has since been... emptied? sucked into the ether? eaten by Yahoo? :shrug: I don't know. I could log in with my normal account, but they had an old address for main contact info, so I'm sure they warned me that they were deleting pictures, but I don't use the ISP email, so I never saw it coming. Hopefully, there are some tucked away on the hard drive James salvaged from the basement.

And then, because it's more fun to play in a well-lit kitchen, we've been busy in there...

The spiced nuts would make a wonderful gift. I think. We can't keep them around long enough to package and give away, so it's only a guess. The saltine toffee, of course, is a natural favorite. James has reached a Zen-like mastery of the Russian tea cakes (aka, Snowballs, or Mexican Wedding Cookies). And a dear friend brought the mock Turtles to the Troop meeting last week (pretzels, rolos, and she topped hers with M&Ms, although pecans are traditional, and almonds are not bad at all!) So Jase and Em have been making those. Rice krispy treat wreaths, and old fashioned chocolate chip cookies round out this week's adventures. I might make some of my Mother-in-Law's amazing candies the week after Christmas. (The kids need to be busy doing something else for that. I don't have it down well enough to supervise helpers, and there would be scalding. She would probably rescind my rights to the recipes, and rightfully so, if I scalded the grandbabies.) We're on the lookout for more ideas to make together, though. Do you have a favorite recipe you'd be willing to let me know about?

Kiss those babies!

Monday, December 17

A Busy Day in December

Z and I did quite a bit of shopping today, finishing up the majority of our gift purchases. Coffee, quiet time in the car, no bickering over what to buy or where to go. It. Was. Wonderful. Long-term monogamy is handy for us slow learners. Give us another 15 years, and we are absolutely going to *rock* this living together thing!

I'm finally entering the... whatever century this is... and actually used my Amazon app to buy books. In the car. On our way home. I don't know why that felt like such a milestone, but it did. :tinylittlefistbump: Had this phone for two years, and it's only been in the past few months that I've figured out how to use it. This is why I'm not an early adopter, right? But, yay, Amazon loves me and there will be books beneath the tree!

James watched the siblings for us, which was huge. He wants to babysit, and so the experience is good for him. Plus, it's not a bad gig - they played Apples to Apples and Battleship. He made lunch. Jacob made smoothies. Then James and John read to the little ones, and spearheaded the video game rotations, all without wielding the Staff Of Power, or any other nonsense. Just a good, warm, gentle time of watching the Littles. They were all quite content and safe. Plus, he called to check in while we were out. :happy melting heart: He's such a great big brother. And a neat kid, overall.

The Unclaimed Baggage Center is here in Alabama. I'd feel silly if we lived here a decade and never made it over there. (Kind of like not making it to the Walls of Jericho, Chattanooga, Atlanta, Buck's Pocket, Rock City, and a few other places on our To Do list...) So that's where we went today. Wow. Oh, wow. That is a cool little place. They have a museum, with displays and information on the more interesting things that have come their way. They have a central pillar display done up like ancient Venetian plaster, with money and pictures from around the world worked into the columns. I'm pretty sure I couldn't go on a highly hormonal day, as there were a few things that you just *know* someone really, really missed, and I couldn't imagine not trying to find out who and where, to reunite them with the lost item. So. There is that warning. But if you're of a less sentimental nature, it's a neat little place to find interesting things. No pictures from there, though. They do have a hashtag and posters for Instagram users who want to tag them. I nearly took a picture of that, but couldn't decide if it was weird or ironic. If you can't tell, it's best to pass, I think.

And the window trim is up! (As of two minutes ago.) I have to clean, and we need sunlight, but then I'll share a picture of the end result. This project is as big an improvement as pulling the carpet was! (Z says not quite, from a health standpoint, the carpet wins. That's a fair assessment.)

Kiss those babies!

Sunday, December 16

Late to the Festivities, but Getting There

It's taken us a while to push through this project (the paint on the trim is drying, but as soon as it's up, I'll post photos - it turned out really well, and I'm so happy with it), but we're finally kicking into the Holiday Spirit. Our Advent readings started out well, then we got into discussions of prophets, Israel, Jacob wrestling with the angel... now we're reading through parts of Genesis, and I'm not entirely sure how we got there. But it's good, you know? We're thinking, and talking, and sharing. So, yeah. Yeah, that works.

Zorak brought home a tree a couple days ago. It was pretty scrunched up, so we left it to unfold overnight. It, um, never really unfolded. It just is the size it is. Z likes it, though, and the kids think it's beautiful. I like them, and think they're beautiful, so it's a win-win if you look at it like that.

The boys tested all the lights today, fixed the broken ones, and decorated the bathroom. (Priorities are important, and a festive bath is a happy bath.) Then we got to the tree. They handled everything; I mostly wandered about taking pictures of the backs of people's heads. It's like trying to make two magnets align when they're not facing the right way. You can get close, but one's going to shoot off at the last minute. 

Every once in a while I can use the zoom to capture a moment that's honest and wonderful. That makes me smile.

They make me smile.

Kiss those babies!

Wednesday, December 12


There is a window in the wall, folks! It's IN. It's not foamed or trimmed, but I don't particularly mind. It's IN! It's so pretty, too. We may get up early tomorrow, just to enjoy the light as the sun comes up.

Also, that was just in time. We have a Scout meeting here tomorrow. The boys will be down in the meadow (additional serendipity: meteor shower tomorrow night! WOOHOO!), but the committee members will probably appreciate meeting indoors before that. It will be nice for there to be a marked difference, yes? Yes, we thought so, too.

Standing back, taking in the progress, I'd wondered aloud if we could find before-before pictures of the house, and Zorak mentioned that he's pretty sure there are some on the blog. I'll bet he's right! That will make before/after shots significantly easier, but it also got us thinking about how much we've done, and how much we've learned. We're really quite fortunate to have one another -- it's a good combination. Although I am excited about living in a normal, finished house for a time. At least until we have the opportunity to take on another Big Project.

Kiss those babies!

Tuesday, December 11


It's crazy how quickly technology has advanced. I remember buying a new computer with a 111 processor and the salesman assuring us we wouldn't need anything faster than that, ever. For years later, the slowest thing we could find was a 4... Something, something... Now, we're into bigger memory and faster speeds than the craziest of dreamers would have speculated just 15 years ago.

I'm sitting at a table at Rosie's, blogging while I wait for Z. And that's not even new technology!

And although I do not have Instagram, I'd post a picture in a heartbeat...

Except I've blogged a full GB worth of images in seven years. (!!)

So, until the technology catches up and we can blog smells, you'll just have to trust me when I say this place is great!

Monday, December 10

So much paper!

Right now, I'm glad I don't have any girlfriends who come over to help me with the redecorating. It would be awful for them to have to stage an intervention in the middle of the Christmas season.

I'd put all the stray papers from the school room, including those in, around, on, near, behind, and underneath my desk, into a box. That box has sat atop the rocking chair, blocking the kids' shelves and mocking me, for a week. Tonight, as we watched a movie, I rolled up my sleeves and tackled the box.

It took two movies for me to get through that box. And just as I'd emptied the last piece of paper, James looked up, gasped, and said, "Oh, man! Someone trashed the living room!" He was right. It was bad. It took another half hour for us to put away the little, sorted piles. The kitchen trash is full, and all the things have been dealt with, thrown away, or set for burning.

I also found a dozen clean, brand new spiral notebooks, four composition books, pictures spanning three decades (just random photos -- not an actual cache of cool, lost photos, which would have been neat, and not terribly surprising), a ream of lined loose-leaf paper, and two dozen empty file folders.

Oh, and a rocking chair! :weak smile:

Kiss those babies!

Saturday, December 8

Spoke too soon.

No pictures. I can't find the camera!

It's just been that sort of week, really. Thankfully, it's over. And while I'm bummed about the camera going missing (although it's *got* to be here, somewhere -- it's just got to be -- we had it at the Troop Christmas Party, then came home... didn't go anywhere else or do anything else. It's crazy.) -- really, it's not going to upend our world. We have a lot to be glad for, and we are. (Although I did push pretty hard on the Clean As You Look For It rule, and the house is quite tidy, now.)

Zorak and the boys got all the brick off the wall, got the sheathing prepped, the bricks cleaned, and started re-bricking where it needs to have a wall. That's crazy-scary, watching that. Brick dust is tremendous, and duct tape is a total godsend for sealing off leaks and keeping the dust out of the house. Bless the engineers at Johnson & Johnson. (As a side note, I read several articles that stated the Germans called it Panzertape. Now that's an endorsement, isn't it? Good stuff, by any name.) We ran out of mortar today, but will get some tomorrow, and hope to have it done by the end of this weekend.

EmBaby has begun to suspect that we're trying to get out of Christmas decorating. (She asked the other day, "Are we having a tree this year? Should we just decorate the bookshelves?") I guess we do need to put that on the to-do list for this week. The kids haven't exactly nixed the idea of cutting their own tree again this year, but they haven't made eye contact when we've brought it up, either. Z and I figure this may be the year to buy a replacement tree. I geeked out over one last week that has little, fake pine cones on it. James and the littles were with me, and it's not clear whether they thought I was joking or not. (I wasn't. It's truly just ugly enough to be wonderful! Whimsical! Perfect!)

Meanwhile, we're still loving the new arrangement. EmBaby did her schoolwork in the Dining Room. We aren't even doing school this week! We need some actual furniture for the living room, now that it's the size of a living room, but that will come. Eventually, we get things done.

Kiss those babies!

Friday, December 7

Why? Why, Spambots?!

The comments on this blog are moderated. It's not like I'm going to assume you're legit just because you write something sweet before your spammy links!

This is not a clothing blog. It is not an accessories blog. It is not a knock-off shoe blog. To be honest, it's supposed to be a homeschooling blog, but it's more of a family scrapbook. (I apologize for that, but it's all the kids are likely to have - I have PTSD from my mother's post-depression keep-all-things reaction.) But whatever this place is, we are not your target audience!

Now, if Indiana University Press or the nice folks at Yesterday's Classics wanted to leave a link or two, that would be one thing. Or Amazon. (Amazon is always welcome, here. I think that's a given.)

But the rest need to give. it. up. I'm not falling for it, folks. Not falling for it one little bit.

That said, I love the new camera! And there may be pictures tonight! (If I don't fall asleep watching a movie. That's kind of my new hobby. Not terribly satisfying, but very easy to keep up with.)

Kiss those babies!

Thursday, December 6

It's like having an illness!

We got the kitchen painted and the cabinets reinstalled. They look lovely. Also, the kids are stoked to eat like normal again. Meanwhile, the voices (I don't know if it's the house, the caffeine, or what) started up again. That dining table... needs to be shorter, and wider, doesn't it?


And then it would fit in the school room, wouldn't it?

Mmmm, yes...

I wonder if we could put the computer over in that corner?

Oh, yes, my lovely...

Ohhh! And then (THEN!) we could put furniture equidistant from the wood stove on the right, doubling our living space!

Yessss, you're mine, now. You won't be able to think about anything else until you try it...

SURE! All we have to do is move those two bookshelves, dismantle the computer desk and the shelf over that... empty the corner hutch, and... why, we can do this before dinner! It's brilliant!

It's a good thing I've never done drugs. I can't imagine how much worse this could be. The kids didn't even flinch, and when Zorak got home, there we were, wading mid-calf deep through books stacked in the living room, vacuuming up dead bugs, maneuvering around empty bookcases parked caddywompus in the dining room. He's such a sport. Mere mortals would, at the least, use a tense, hissing voice as they inquired what in the name of all that's holy is going on here. Lesser men might even have asked about the voices. He just threw some pork steaks in the oven and helped schlep books back and forth.

For hours.

But we ate in the new Dining Room! It's echo-y and bare, but pleasant and intimate. (Definitely need a different table, though.) And after the kids went to bed, we sorted and shelved books. I have about 90# of books that don't have a home now that we've taken down the computer shelf, and the corner between the hutch and the tea cart accumulated a shocking amount of crap in the last five years. (None of which I have any idea where to put.) And then there's that paper addiction we haven't addressed yet. So really, it looks worse. Much, much worse. And the voices would be laughing, but they gave up and went to bed two hours ago.

The window will be here next weekend (not the one coming, but the one after), and I hope to have everything looking like it's meant to be this way by the time the window arrives. We'll see how that goes.

Kiss those babies!

Sunday, December 2

Watching Paint Dry

Turns out, it won't dry any faster if you watch it. (And yet, I stare. Go figure.)

As of this writing, the kitchen has been textured and primed. I wanted to paint tonight, but that's not going to happen. Of course, I wanted to put the kitchen back together tonight, too, so admittedly, I had ulterior motives at work, there. Still, we are moving forward, keeping our spirits up, and our debris to a minimum. If I can get two coats on tomorrow, then Zorak can do a few things under the cabinets when he gets home and then we'll be in business. I can't describe how giddy I am over this project.

We bought enough paint to do all the living area spaces that are currently Heavy Cream. (Fresh paint does wonders, even if it's the same color you had before.) I thought I'd run into a bit of a snag, though, when I pulled the paint chip for it. It's... tan. According to the paint chip, Olympic's "Heavy Cream" is a tan color. I stuck it under the wonder lights, to see if our lighting must be making it look different. Nope. It looks tan under all the different lighting options. So I called James and asked him to read the label to me. It matched. No extra letters, numbers, or runes anywhere on the can? Nope. :shrug: OK, then. Since we're redoing everything, I guess it wouldn't matter if it were way off. It's just unsettling to think you've been living in a creamy yellow house for seven years, only to find out it's tan and everybody you know just smiled and nodded when you described it as yellow.

The guys began the brick work today, removing the bricks from within the space for the new window. The boys helped get them off, and took turns cleaning bricks (some of the old window space will now be wall, so we want to re-tread bricks to match where we'll have to build new wall.). If there is a patron saint of lungs or respiratory systems, I need to know. The dust is astounding! Even with filters and tarps and a good breeze to keep it moving away from the house, everything is covered in abrasive dust. Blech. By the time we're done with this project, it's going to take another six months to get it all out of the house.

Anyway, the boys worked their fingers to the bone this weekend. Zorak declared they did a steak-worthy job, so we splurged on steaks and turnip greens tonight. So good. I wish we could afford for them to work this hard all the time!

The window will be here in 13 days. That's plenty of time to finish what we can of the brickwork, have the rest of the kitchen back together, and start another project. I love this time of year!

Kiss those babies!

Saturday, December 1


The hens aren't using the nesting boxes for anything other than naps, so these were a pleasant surprise.

James came back from putting up the chickens and announced, "We have 18 chickens, and FIVE EGGS!" It took us all a second for it to sink in, but then we were excited.

Unfortunately, the roosters are all pretty into doing their jobs, and we have no clue how long those eggs have been there... so we'll have to crack them outside, in case they're bad. Still, it's exciting to have some progress.

(This was last night. Jacob found another one today. We don't know who is laying, but they're all in the same place so far, so that makes it easier. How exciting!)

Kiss those babies!

Friday, November 30

:whispers: I'm not here...

I should be in bed, but I'm not sleepy yet.

So, things are shaping up nicely. I showed the kids the Big Epiphany. The relief that emanated from James' very pores was impressive. John gets it, too, and both of them look forward to the changes we'll be making. Jacob seemed un-phased, but he spends most of his time thinking of ways to get more Lego time in, anyway, so there's not going to be a huge Delta for him in this regard.

James had a fantastic suggestion -- that we get back to using more literature-based materials. I don't know how or when we got away from that, but we did. We spent a good portion of today pouring over book lists, digging up copies we own, and making a list of the books we know we want to add. It's been a while since the kids have been that engaged, but that's what we're after!

Then I started looking for ways to pare down the overall obligations without sacrificing the things that really are beneficial. I gave notice that I won't be doing the Awards Coordinator position for the Pack for 2013. I've served two years in that position, and it's pretty much turnkey at this point. I'll still be on the committee, will continue to lead Jacob's Den, and will help out with things as needed, but the cuts have to come from somewhere, and I'm comfortable with that one. I've also approached someone about stepping in as the Troop Committee Chair for the coming year. I'd still stay on the committee, but perhaps as Secretary. (I'm already doing the monthly parent newsletter and round-ups, and I do enjoy those.) And a friend offered last month to take over the Fundraising Coordinator job for me, too. (Bless her!) So that's a good start.

If we can free up one more day, and make some alterations to our errand running plans, I think we'll be in good shape. Or at least we'll have bought ourselves a little breathing room, which I desperately need at the moment.

On the project front, Zorak got the second coat of mud on the drywall tonight. We'll sand it and check it tomorrow - maybe texture, maybe do one more thin coat. Either way, we'll be painting the wall and putting the rest of the cabinets and the refrigerator back this weekend. He hooked up the sink for me last night. I haven't been that glad to do dishes by hand in a long, long time, but after washing them in the tiny bathroom sinks for a week, this was luxurious. Tomorrow, we'll eat normally again!

We bought a camera at Target on Wednesday. I thought it would be similar to the old silver one that died, and I was so excited. But it's not. It's chintzy and flimsy and doesn't take very good pictures. Also, we got 12 shots, no video, and it drained the batteries to the point that it couldn't use the flash. It could be the batteries, but there are enough drawbacks without that concern that I'm thinking it needs to go back to the store, anyway, and we'll try another one. Anyone have a decent, everyday camera you like? (Don't need love - it's too close to Christmas to think about love - I just need something other than my gimpy phone for taking Christmas and activity pictures.)

And now, to bed, for tomorrow, we smile!

Kiss those babies!

Wednesday, November 28

Encroaching Obligations

For years, I've guarded our time at home. It's our downtime, our quiet time, our sanctuary from the ever-pressing Busy Life. This is where we delve into the ideas we have, share our questions, and explore new things. When the boys had baseball practice on Thursdays, we had piano lessons, bought groceries, and ran errands on Thursdays. Granted, it made Thursdays a little hellish, but it kept the rest of the week free and flexible. When we dropped baseball, I moved things around a bit to free up the ends of the week, but kept that same mindset: one day a week is all I'm willing to give to outside activities and demands. That felt so good. It felt so good that I clung to the idea long after I'd allowed it to die.

Recently, I've felt as if we're just bowled over by a lack of time. But we only leave the house two days a week! (Errand day and church.) How can that be? How can we not have enough time? And I pressed to make us more efficient, more focused, more diligent. Let's get to bed earlier, get up earlier. More focus, less distraction. Let's go, move, DO! Hop on one foot with our tongues on our noses while we feed the animals.

OK, that last one, not so much. But for all the good it would have done, we might as well have tried it. I sat down tonight to make our menu for the next two weeks, and thought about how I often get caught without a *good* plan on the rare occasion we have somewhere to be. So, I thought to myself, let's jot down in the menu where we have to go on those days and see if that helps remind me to plan quick meals, or crockpot meals, or whatever creative endeavor needs to happen on those days.

What the what, Batman!?

We have piano/guitar/groceries/errands one day, Scouts another day, Cub Scouts another day, community activities another day, church on Sundays. Roundtables and committee meetings. Add in the monthly Scout outing (which takes a full weekend), the regular Pack events (an additional night a month, plus prep time), Forge meetings, homeschool social activities, work, and the time required for the Projects That Must Be Done and...

We're never home. We're never still. Not for any appreciable length of time. There is no downtime. There is no quiet time. We've allowed the demands of time to be made on our every little corner of the day. And I never saw it. I never realized that this obligation, or that activity, or those events had effectively robbed us entirely of the buffer I'd thought we guarded so carefully. And the funny thing is that if you'd asked me about each thing, individually, I'd have defended each item as being Beneficial and Worthwhile. Taken as a whole, though, I'm not convinced. Our lives have not been significantly richer the past six months. They've not been more enjoyable (although we are not miserable by any means). They've just been... Busy.

And I've continued to try to pack our home life, our studies, our projects, and our downtime into what little space is left. No wonder it's felt like we're swimming with only one arm against an undertow.

So, something's got to give. I'm not sure what, or how. That's going to take some family time and discussion. It may be that we decide to keep it all and pare down the home goals, but I doubt it. I think we need to rebuild the buffer and rethink our priorities. Or, at least, I do. This one's all on me.

It's good to know, though. Meal planning for this week was a snap, at least! And hopefully by next week, we'll have a clearer idea of the path forward.

And I'm reminded of the phrase, "Live Intentionally". I know better than to let life happen to us, than to relinquish my post at the lookout, or neglect my duties at the helm. (Reminds me of another adage: "Be vigilant, for nothing one achieves lasts forever". *aherm* Yes. Well.) We must be diligent in our choices, and make each decision as if it is taken at the expense of all the other choices, because it is. Let it be worth the trade, so that we do not look back over our lives with more "If only..." than there has to be. (The natural learning curve of Life somewhat necessarily mandating that there will always be some, at least.) And so, we will live intentionally,

and kiss those babies.


Tuesday, November 27

Define "resilient"...

So, turns out all of the kids are fermenting Something. Not all the Same Thing, of course. That would be Parenting For Noobs. (The kids are not only keeping me spooled up on infectious diseases, they keep my vocabulary fresh and kicky. Except they've asked me not to say 'kicky'. But they're asleep.) No, we seem to have a variety of things going about. Some intestinal fun, a little sinus, and two variations of generalized throat pain. Wee! We did "Hospital Prep School" today - vacuumed and disinfected everything, force fed all the people Greek yogurt, ginger root tea, and Vitamin D capsules, then read and watched documentaries the rest of the day. It's not thrilling, but it gets the job done sometimes. Everyone turned in early (except Zorak and I, obviously) and the house smells very... not germy. Let's hope the rest of the week shows marked improvement!

Zorak hung the drywall tonight. It looks a little patch-worky at the moment, with the original Adobe Ghetto Pink in the corners behind the cabinets, and swaths of Heavy Cream flanking freshly-screwed-in-gray. But this is the easy part. Now we just have to mud, wait, mud, wait, texture, wait, paint, wait, then *BAM* everything goes back in place, all pretty and clean. It's exciting, in an anti-climactic way. I do feel a good run of Netflix streaming in our near future, though!

Me-Wa returned from his most recent hunting trip this week, and they came out to the house to bring some venison, and an anvil for John. John's so excited. He doesn't look it right now, because of the groaning and clutching his side, but he is. He marked a couple of projects from one of his blacksmithing books today, and I saw the glimmer of an idea forming just before he headed to bed.

Still haven't found the math disc, but we have made headway on some projects.

EmBaby is getting antsy to decorate for Christmas, though, and she announced the other day that there is a place that SELLS Christmas Trees! "Mom, you can just go up and pick one you want, already cut! Did you KNOW that?" So I'm guessing last year's foray into the woods to cut their own tree didn't leave the same impression on her as it did on the boys.

Jase is ready to go shopping, but he's four - he still thinks that means he's going to go shopping for things he wants. It's rough to be four. The world makes no sense, at all.

Kiss those babies!

Saturday, November 24

Project Blogging - Kitchen Window

It's amazing how far into a project you can get before realizing the Rubicon is three steps behind you. *whew* But that's okay. Here we are...

And we're well into new territory by now, but it's coming along beautifully. The old studs are gone, the new studs are in, the shiny, lovely new header is in (and doing its job remarkably well, I must say). Zorak's made some improvements over our initial installation that we've had on the docket for the past couple of years.

You can see it beginning to take shape in this photo, above. It's going to be wonderful! We kept as much of the old studs as we could - they're Loblolly pine, which is awesome-and-awful all at the same time. Awesome because that stuff is so strong, and is probably what kept the house from falling apart during the neglected years. Awful because that stuff is so strong that bits and blade quail in its presence. So we compromised.

On the "Will It Work" front, I am happy to report that there were NO bugs, NO snake bodies, and NO evidence of mice behind the cabinets or in the walls. We were more than a little tense and puckery as we pulled the cabinets away from the wall, fully expecting to see any number of horrors back there, so it was a complete delight to find the things we'd thought would work did work! Seven years is a good trial run, too. Foam and diatomaceous earth for. the. win!

The kids have been so helpful/accommodating/resilient. I have no idea how this is all getting filed in their heads (that's what the Therapy Jar is for), but their attitudes and responses have been better than I could ask. Or hope for. This is so much fun!

So, we've got it blocked up for the night (lows in the 20's). Tonight, it's sirloin roast, steamed broccoli, and apple cider for supper. Because when your kitchen is torn apart, it helps to eat like nothing's wrong, at all.

Kiss those babies!

Tuesday, November 20

A Week Without Normal

We're mostly off school this week. The boys are finishing up a few things and I'm staring at the booklist, wishing I had a significantly larger budget. I doubt any of us is making much headway. The weather has been in the low-to-mid-60's and, once again, it's a good thing we don't own a hammock or we'd be getting nothing done, at all.

Our plan to do the kitchen window (replacing the light sucking hole above the dishwasher with a larger, properly centered window, allowing people to stand at the sink at stare at something other than my steep learning curve on texture techniques) is moving forward, though not the way we'd hoped. We're going to have to order a window, and that's fine. There is a ten-day lead time on it (again, not bad, considering - think for a moment how magnificent it is that we can order a framed glass window to our own specifications, and have it delivered in under two weeks - that's mind-boggling, and wonderful). But that means we'll have to juggle the steps a little to make them fit the time we have available and the weather conditions. Much like trying to get a large pillow into a pillowcase. It can be done, but you're probably not going to want anyone watch you do it.

Also, if you come by the house and see a blue tarp hanging above the sink for more than a month, don't ask questions. Don't even make eye contact if you can help it. Just bring a chocolate orange and a Black Cherry Mike's, please.

The pickup rehabilitation project is... well, Z put in a transmission gasket this week. It's dark and cold when he gets home. He doesn't particularly *enjoy* automotive work, and we all miss him and are somewhat demanding of his time when he walks in the door. It's hard to work with children stuck to your ankles, talking non-stop. It's better this way - the truck doesn't really care when you get around to it, but the kids do.

This week, we hope to find James' math disc, make headway on some projects, get squared away and organized. I'm also eyeballing the school room. It desperately needs to be Something Else. What, though, I've no idea. What do you do with a 10x10 room that has no uninterrupted walls? (Or, more accurately, what can you do with two two-foot corners, a two-by-four corner, and a sliver of space behind a door? I'm just not that creative! And if I find money, I'm spending it on books. So.)

Hope your week is shaping up beautifully, too.

Kiss those babies!

Sunday, November 18

How Many Days Until...

Halloween? Christmas? My Birthday? Thanksgiving? My eleventy-first birthday? Sunday? Christmas?

It's so much fun when they start to realize time has some kind of continuity. It's even more fun when they learn to take it for granted. Right now, however, I can safely say there are four days until Thanksgiving, and 37 days until Christmas. You'll have to figure out your own birthday if you want to know that one badly enough, and you can ask James to figure out how long until your eleventy-first birthday because, frankly, he enjoys things like that and I don't.

37 days until Christmas? That doesn't seem right. But I've been using weeks, because weeks leaves them just confused enough that I can slip off to refill my coffee before they think up another question.

Em's already making Christmas presents. Paper owls and paper dolls seem to be this week's themes. I'm pretty sure the EMT will find our bodies beneath the composting piles of cardstock one day, but as long as we can breathe, we will enjoy the pretty little creations she brings us. (There are. so. many. Thank goodness nobody here suffers from Pulpuslaceratapohobia*.)

Deer season has begun. The guys were out cutting wood when one trotted right past them. Fortune, however, favors the prepared, and it didn't seem wise to lob a maul at it, so we had ham tonight, instead. Perhaps this week, at some point, we'll have time to go hunting. After the kitchen window is in. We're working on that this week!

The boys hosted an airsoft gathering at the house on Friday. Good turnout. Lovely women. Naturally, EmBaby got wide-eyed and whispered, "Upstairs?!" when I told her she and Jase could watch a movie while the boys played. What was I just saying about how we don't just shove them into the cellar? In front of new company, too. Kids are good for that - keeping you humble and on your toes. At any rate, the boys all had a really good time, and I hope I didn't do anything too weird.

Kiss those babies!

*Fear of paper cuts. Learned something new today!

Saturday, November 10

Weird Family Traditions

Not much going on today. I culled and cleaned. The guys split wood. (This will be a recurring theme.) Zorak and I did enjoy dinner so very much. Not only was the food good (pulled pork, homemade slaw, leftover pintos - always better the second day), but the kids were on a roll. They are ridiculously funny, and their inside jokes keep one another in stitches. It's like having front row seats to a well-oiled comedy team. We laughed and listened, and generally enjoyed the entire evening.

And then, the guys settled in for what I jokingly refer to as their "stories". (Did your mother watch soap operas?) They are watching The Walking Dead. It's become A Thing they do. After supper a couple of nights a week, we let the Littles play video games or watch a movie in the basement (it's like a game room - not like we just shove them into a cellar for an hour), while Z and the Bigs spool up their show. They call me in to come watch with them, because they're cool like that. It *is* a good show. But, I get... tense. So I have to get up and walk around, switch out some laundry, get a cup of coffee at... crucial moments. Drives them nuts. "Mom! MOM! You're missing it!" Either one day they will understand, or they'll go to their graves thinking their mother just didn't know how to have a good time. Regardless, they're building memories. I hope they're good ones.

Deer season starts next week, the stores have the holiday displays in full swing, and the electric bill has mellowed out for the winter. That's all such comforting stuff. The kids are talking about making Christmas presents, and they're ready to get moving. After seeing what they did for birthdays this year, I'm looking forward to it!

We'll probably have to split more wood, first, though.

Kiss those babies!

Thursday, November 8

A New Plan, A Better Plan

If I only post every four weeks, I can re-tread that Hair Day post and get a lot of miles out of it, can't I? But that defeats the point of blogging, and I doubt very much the children would appreciate the digital version of their family album being a list of Mom's weird appointments.

OK. Fine.

I was busy wallowing in October. Every blessed under-80-degree-but-not-below-40 moment of it. It was spectacular. Coffee on the balcony in the mornings (until the acorns began falling - then I had to bring it back in because the welts were unseemly, and so was the swearing), windows wide open and that delicious combination of sweatshirts, shorts, and flip flops that I just can't convince myself to try any other time of year.

The boys Scout Troop finally went backpacking in October. I got to go, since Zorak isn't much on the backpacking thing. It's hard to feel like you're taking one for the team when you're as giddy over going as your spouse is over not having to go. We spent two nights in the Sipsey Wilderness, camped creekside, slept under the magnificent pine and hardwood canopy... didn't loose anybody or have to build a travois! You just can't ask for a better backpacking trip than that.

We built the stairs to the balcony in October. They are exquisite. And now, they're partially stained, to match the partially stained balcony. As soon as the treads weather up a bit, it will look like it was all intentional. (One might suggest we just stain the decking and treads, but we missed the window and there are leaves... so many leaves. We'll have three days in March where the leaves aren't falling and the pollen hasn't descended on everything yet. Maybe then.)

The Volvo died in October, and we spent most of the month with only one car. That part? Not such a great time. But it could have been worse. There was never any need to call in reinforcements for a trip to the ER. Zorak took it to the auto hobby shop, where George The Car Magician pulled a rabbit out from under the hood and *poof*, it started again. (Not an actual rabbit, but it might as well have been. We still have no idea how he fixed it.)

We felled a gigantic tree that died this year. Nature makes some impressive noises. We gave thanks, split the wood, saved a stump to use for knife throwing, and gave a target stump to Pastor's boys. I'm sure Pastor's wife was thrilled. (She's so patient with us.) The boys dug it, though.

We took the steel wool and stove black to the wood stove. If you've never cleaned up a cast iron stove using that stuff, you've got to try it. I felt like a cross between Ma Ingalls and Ron Popeil.

Then we careened wildly into November, voted, prepped for the kitchen window project, started rehabbing my old pickup, and tonight enjoyed the first fire of the year.

Not bad. Not bad, at all.

Kiss those babies!

Wednesday, October 10

It's Hair Day!

How banal. And yet, it's all I've got. But it's enough.

Susan of the Magnificent Shears is my hero. She handles Jacob's crazy, multi-textured, vari-directional hair like it's the most natural thing in the world. I love to watch her work. I love that she doesn't get halfway around his head and look suddenly lost, as if she'd just woken up and isn't sure how she got there. From start to finish, she's on it, and she owns it, and he walks out of there looking (and feeling) like he's off to his next Jr. GQ shoot. Every time. She is amazing.

I'm still thisclose to asking for a pixie cut. Which I shall then dye peroxide blonde, so that we can find the ticks easily. Obviously, Zorak's trying hard not to make eye contact or say anything that might drive me over the edge while I'm mid-panic. But the Scouts are going backpacking next weekend, and I just don't know that I want to tackle another episode with this much hair. So I'll talk to Susan the Magnificent. She'll be able to talk me down and do something with it. I wonder how bad an idea it is to backpack on Xanax?

Then we're off to buy more garlic, some duct tape, a bottle of Skin-So-Soft, a pair of good tweezers, and more Tea Tree Oil.


Kiss those babies!

Monday, October 8

A Day Out

The Birmingham Zoo hosted its annual Tiger Cub Safari today. We'd not been before, and we realized that none of the younger three have ever been to a zoo, and the older two don't remember being to one, so we decided to go and make a day of it. Zorak decided to put off home projects for the day and come along, and I'm so glad he did. We really, thoroughly enjoyed the day.

The weather was a bit chilly, but the day itself was gorgeous. After working hard the past week, we were all ready to get a little goofy and have some fun.

The kids are really the best. I love traveling with them. They not only pose willingly for goofy shots, but suggest some fun ones, too.

Of course, by the time we got home, everyone was bushed, so the kids hit the hay and Z and I got some time to sit and watch a movie, make plans, and drink coffee. It was like ending the day with a fun little mini-date. I'm glad we went for it, and look forward to maybe making it a tradition to have a day out, just doing something fun together, every couple of months.

I wonder if we'll be ready to get back to work tomorrow, or if we'll want to lounge around, thinking up new places to go?

Kiss those babies!

Saturday, October 6

Sweater Weather!

It never got above 60 in the house today! I had all the windows open and made everyone put on sweaters when they complained about the cold. It was glorious. (The odds that it'll be warm enough to cook outside at Christmas are pretty high, so I have to grab it while I can. I may not be able to get away with wearing a sweater again until our mid-January cold snap, and by then, the windows will be sealed up tight.) Jacob asked for soup, so I'll put some bones in the crockpot to simmer overnight and we'll enjoy a lovely stock for soup tomorrow! He knows how to get in on the excitement, that one does.

We got in a great mix of academics and general grunt work this week. ("Great" being a purely subjective term. But they read and talked a lot, and we stayed on target with school. Plus, the basement looks magnificent, the Suburban is full of donations and things to go to friends, and the trash haul is going to be massive this week -- so if you're grading with a Mom Rubric, it was Great!)

And, you know how I mentioned that the boys had a blast on their ride? They've talked about it, shared stories from it, gushed about the things they loved, planned for the next one, brainstormed some amazing route ideas -- all on their own. All week long, they've been at it. I've received texts from parents telling me what fun their sons had, too. But at the meeting this week, when the SM asked for feedback from the boys, it was like they were all surprised there was a quiz and they didn't know what to say. So the only feedback he got was, "The hamburgers were good." :sigh: Really? Well, so much for breaking the inertia. I don't know how much support we'll be able to maintain for completing the badge as a group. I have asked some trusted friends what that is (that weird Beavis-ization of the man children that occurs the minute they walk into the Scout meeting - because it happens more often than not), and several of them swear it's normal for this age, and that they do get over it. I don't care so much about the normal part, but so help me, if they don't get over it soon I'm going to start drinking before we get to the meetings. And in the meantime, if any boy wants to ride, we'll ride. That's just how we roll. Er, ride. Whatever.

And - hey, we have a rooster! Actually, two confirmed roosters, and it sounds like we may have three or more, which would be a bit of a glitch on the hatchery's part, considering we ordered the all-hen layer mix. But they're fun and loud and healthy. Thank God for healthy! Oy. And so beautiful! James started looking up info today on how to get into showing chickens. There's a 4-H club somewhere, I'm sure - not here, but nearby. Anyway, I'm leaving it up to him. If he wants to show chickens, and is willing to do the legwork to get started (and handle them), then we'll buy a chicken hauler (or... a what? Let's hope he figures out how best to transport chickens) and we'll give it a shot. Still no eggs, though. I really hope we didn't end up with 19 roosters...

Kiss those babies!

Monday, October 1

Happy October!

Not that there's anything particularly spectacular about October 1. It's a beautiful, wet, grey morning here, though. And that's happy-making. Plus there's coffee, which is always a reason to celebrate.

The Bigs had their overnight bike trip this weekend. They biked the Chief Ladiga Trail, from the Esom Hill Trailhead to Anniston, AL. 33 mi., broken up over two days. So, not a huge stretch as far as effort goes, but a beautiful change from the norm (which is riding their bikes from the camp site to the candy shop at Tannehill State Park once a year). The weather held out beautifully, and didn't start with the inundating rain until after they'd reached the end, loaded the bikes, and headed homewars. (I stared at the weather-in-motion radar map until my eyes bled, trying to will the storms to GO AROUND!! Don't think it worked, but that won't stop me from trying it again next time they head out, I'm sure.) They had a blast, overall, which we figured they would. And from what I've heard, the adults who went enjoyed it, too. (I'm so glad! It stinks to be the guy who planned The Nightmare Trip - those stories are hard to live down.)

It's good to have them home again. Although I'm sure when they get up and see the next two weeks' planner pages all filled in and ready to go, they may not be as excited as I am!

Kiss those babies!

Sunday, September 23

Seriously? Again?

We were busy today! Zorak welded a traveling stand for the plow disc cooker. It has clips to hold the disc vertical, and the propane tank fits inside, so it's now ready for next weeks' Big Inaugural Outing with the boys. (Not only will it travel more easily, but it's significantly more stable than the fish fryer we jury rigged in the first place. Go, Z!)

John cleared the sloped portion of the front yard, and we brainstormed a mulching/garden plan for it that should be more aesthetically pleasing as well as making the space more productive. Zorak hammered out a plan to refurbish an old stone bench to a useful state (we lived here five years thinking it was a creepy grave stone before a neighbor told us it's a toppled bench - so really, it's rather flexible, but should be put to good use in some form or other).

James and I began work rehabbing the tiered... plant... um, spaces...(?) at the front of the house. What it really needs is a bull dozer, a load of brick, some perf pipe, and a little zen garden master. Or maybe a 1950's horticulturist with a penchant for color. It gets... us. But we have some semblance of a vision, gorgeous weather in which to work, and a willingness to wing it until it looks about right. It's amazing what you can do with that much on your side!

We got most of the wall rebuilt and reinforced before James accidentally cracked his finger between two rocks. It looks broken. Ice, anti-inflammatories, rest, water. Wee. (Although I'm a little unsettled about having to take the child in *again* for a broken bone, I am once again unbelievably glad we went with the guy who handles these things instead of trying to find a pediatrician. Childhood illnesses are not so much our bane. Gravity and friction, however, seem to be kicking our butts.)

Shortly after we got him squared away on the couch, I noticed the yellowjackets swarming the area we'd just been working. Never found the nest, but it's good to know they're out there. Even better to have been inside when we found out!

We finally listed the old washer/dryer unit on Craigslist, and it looks like it'll have a new home in a day or two. And, we'll get the front porch back.

Wow. If we keep this up, the place may just look like somebody actually lives here!

Kiss those babies!

A Busy Day, and a Night with the Moon

We had a crazy, lazy, busy day. Yes, really -- all of it at once. The kids were up and at it early this morning, in anticipation of playing video games with friends for the morning. Zorak and I slept in, in anticipation of... not moving much until we had to.

Friends came - we talked, worked, played, and generally had a lovely morning.

Then more friends came - we talked, watched the children play, relaxed, and generally had a lovely afternoon. Our friend, Larry, helped James with his computer project, which absolutely made James' day. (Although right now there's a second computer piggybacked onto my monitor, hogging up the leg room under the computer desk. James and I don't seem to use the same ranking process to determine what makes for a great set up. He says it's temporary. I'm hoping our definitions of "temporary" are not equally askew.)

Before we knew it, it was time to eat and head out for International Observe the Moon Night up at the NASA Educational Building in Huntsville. That's one of the things we love about living here: this place is a full-up cornucopia of fantastic opportunities. Science, art, history, music - you name it, Huntsville has it, and usually it's hosted by a group of civic organizations so odds are the event will be full of knowledgeable people with a passion for the topic at hand and an interest in sharing with those who are interested.

Tonight's event was no exception. We were treated to face time with some fascinating people who shared with us about robotic design, imagery technology, colonization research and programs, geology, astronomy, and more. We wished we'd had time to go earlier the event. An hour and a half just wasn't time enough to see and hear all there was available. But we're all really glad we went and enjoyed the time we had.

Kiss those babies!

Friday, September 21

Too Pretty To Stay Inside!

This is it. This is the good stuff. This is windows-wide-open, feet-up-on-the-porch-rail, run-until-you-drop-just-because-you-can weather. This is the weather where you can drink coffee and not feel the need to justify it, or face the wiggly eyebrows of others as they glance between your steaming mug and the thermometer outside. This is the weather that makes me want to read interesting books, write thoughtful letters, and spend idle days in the woods with good company.  This. is. good.

The boys went hiking last weekend with their Troop. Awesome boys. Awesome Scout leaders. Everything you could want in Scouting. They had a great time. We saw some of the most beautiful flora, and... interesting fauna.

Could have done with a little less of the latter, to be honest. But you take Nature as she is, and, well, sometimes she's a little creepy. We've all been there. I don't judge.

I won't regale you with the tick story. Just trust me when I say I was thisclose to agreeing to up and move in the middle of the night. I hear the Arctic is nice this time of year... Also, two thousand mg of garlic daily is *not* enough to keep seed ticks off of you. Nor is DEET. Nor is any possible combination of the two. And those bastards can *bite*. Wow. (I'm sorry. That sounded judgey. OK, maybe I will judge. You bite my kids, you get no love. That's just how it goes.)

We haven't ridden or hiked much this week, what with the open wounds on our feet and ankles. (The toes! Every toe is covered! Ew!) Mostly we've just hobbled about in flip-flops with our pants rolled up, a cotton ball in one hand and a bottle of Calahist in the other. Got a lot of reading done, though, which was great. Again with the balcony love. (Seriously, if you have the opportunity to have a balcony, grab it, folks. If I'd known how much we would use ours, we might have put it in before we did the kitchen cabinets. Love!)

But today, the call of "highs in the 70's" lured us back out onto the trail...
It really is just too pretty to stay inside.

Kiss those babies!

Monday, September 10

This Is Not A Productive Week

Yeah, I know, it's only Monday. But we're not exactly shooting right out of the gate this week.

Everyone was up early this morning because there were presents to open! (We didn't get home from our ride until around ten last night, and there was no way I was going to give the kid a remote control helicopter, a Trilobite kit, and a video game, then tell him to get some shut eye. Even for me, that would have been pretty clueless.) So up, up, UP they were, bright and stinking early.

He opened his presents, and was so genuinely delighted with each one. MeWa and MeTae gave him the coolest Smithsonian set - Trilobites, a Volcano kit, and an archeological dig set. Wee! (And we're doing Ancients this year! Double Win!)

But the gift that took the spotlight was the one from EmBaby and Jase: they wrote him a letter...

... and made him a paper doll set, complete with a crocodile, a lion, a bridge, a shrub, a guy, a gun, and a zombie!

Look at the detail on that - the little gun, for fighting zombies, is detachable! Oh, my gosh, Zorak and I were speechless - it was the sweetest, most delightful, thoughtful present we've ever seen. I wish we had a camera other than on the phone, because the details are fantastic - the lion's mane, and the crocodile's jaws - all of it, just neat. They made this a week ago, and have kept it a secret the whole time. None of us, not even the big boys, knew what they'd made.

And Jacob's reaction? Total icing on the cake - he took out each figure, commented on some aspect of it, set them up, let the littles explain all the details. I think he got how special that gift was. Z and I will never forget it.

After that, it was pretty much all fun and games. The Trilobites are incubating in their environment on the dresser, the helicopter logged many flight hours, and it has been decided that the dolls need to be laminated so that they won't ever get torn or destroyed. Sure, we got a little school done, but really, nobody was paying attention. That's okay. You only turn nine once.

Kiss those babies!

And You Shall Ride the Gauntlet

Well, no, it wasn't that bad. He thought it might, be, though. Jacob turned nine yesterday, and the timing of it landed so that we rode the first half of the Chief Ladiga Trail *on* his birthday. He wasn't convinced this was a great plan, but he went along with it.

He doesn't look traumatized, does he?

OK, maybe a little surprised, but certainly not traumatized, right? 

At the end, the exhilaration of knowing he'd ridden 16 miles under his own power was pretty heady stuff. And it was fun! EmBaby rode the trail-a-bike behind Zorak. Jase rode in the child seat behind me. The boys gave their bikes a good workout. Everyone enjoyed the day, which is pretty impressive, all things considered.

We stopped at Logan's on the way home to refuel with steak and veggies. Then we stopped at the halfway point for a milkshake from Jack's. As he sipped his milkshake, he let out a contented little sigh and said, "This was a pretty fantastic birthday."

And we never got to the presents or the cake!

Happy Birthday Smidge, er, Jacob! You are going to have an Amazing year being 9!

(I'm trying out Dropbox for photos right now. If any of these don't appear properly, and I don't catch it, please let me know. Google/Blogger and I aren't able to communicate very well at the moment when it comes to photo and file uploading.)

Kiss those babies!

Sunday, September 9

Boarding School & Birthdays

JakeRabbit is nine today. He's so very excited. His presents are wrapped, taunting him from a corner of the dining room. We'll have steak and creamed kale for dinner (his pick). I'll pester him with his birth story a bit. My favorite part of that story is that the first sounds he heard were his big brothers shouting, "Welcome to the world, Baby Jacob!" That, and the green chile burritos Aunt B brought us. Those were pretty fantastic, too.

The bigs and I rode yesterday. We got in ten miles, and they felt more grueling than I'd expected. Part of that was that we followed the river upstream, which meant we gradually, but consistently rode uphill. (Note: get a topo map soon!) To highlight the fact, I'd messed up the front deraileur on my bike when I fell last week but we only checked the rear gears before heading out yesterday. Turns out, if you're heading uphill, you'll miss having those bottom seven gears! We ride again today, but I'm ready with ALL the gears!

The boys' Troop had an Eagle Court of Honor last night. The previous Courts of Honor this Troop has had have been very laid back, informal, almost second-thought affairs. This was our first Eagle Court, and it was impressive. The boys all did very well with their speaking parts. The newly minted Eagle just beamed.

And in a completely unrelated vein, do you know why Boarding Schools always look lovely, even with all those children? Staff. They have full staff for every department, including landscaping and kitchen. I'm tempted to see if we can take in some boarders and get on that. Until I can sell Zorak on that plan, though, we tag each other in for different aspects of it and hope for the best. I stayed home yesterday morning to work on the house, while Zorak manned the popcorn booth with Jacob for Cub Scouts. Funny how moving all the airsoft gear to a shelf in the boys' closet gave us back our foyer. (How is it that stuff will fit on a 2'x4' shelf, but it took up an entire 4'x15' room?)

Anyway, we're off to celebrate and enjoy the day!

Kiss those babies!

Wednesday, September 5

Autumn is coming!

We need a seasonal Paul Revere - someone to ride through the streets and alert us when the next season is really, truly coming. (Not the calendar date, but the real weather change!) That would be fun. I'm sure there are plenty of people who'd be willing to do that, right?


Fair enough.

We've transferred all the things onto the calendar for September. It's gonna be Crazy Busy. Good, but still... dang. What were we thinking?

Jacob asked yesterday, after flipping through his planner, "So, after week nine, we're done?" Such hope in his voice. *snort* Nope, sorry, kiddo. After week nine, I'll have to print up more pages. "Oh. That would make more sense, I suppose. But it's not nearly as exciting."

I hear ya. I do.

Kiss those babies!

Sunday, September 2


Doing things.

The boys' Troop rode last Monday. The plan was 3.5 miles, but they were nowhere ready to stop at that point, so what do you do? You point down the trail and say, "Go for it." And they did. They'd have happily ridden farther and longer, but this was a test run, to see how their bikes were after their repair/maintenance meeting. One boy's bike still necessitated getting off to change gears manually. (Um, obviously, we'll work on that.) John's bike dorked up right after the start and he rode the whole thing in seventh gear. He wasn't thrilled about that, but he muscled through and got it done. All things considered, it went amazingly well, and the boys were fantastic! We'd hoped to ride again tomorrow, but the general consensus is that "severe thunderstorms" aren't conducive to safe riding. So. I don't know. We'll see when they can go again. They're building up to a big ride later in the year, and if this crew can keep their great attitudes, keep improving the condition of their bikes, and keep learning as they go, I think it's going to be One Fantastic Adventure.

We hit the annual Civil War re-enactment on Saturday. Two years running. I'd like to say we're getting the hang of staying abreast of things, but it was actually a lady from the homeschool support group who posted the dates. Bless her, and the many other people who take the time to say, "Hey! There's something going on this weekend!" If it weren't for them, we'd be hermits. Not intentionally, but that's how it would pan out. Anyway, we went with friends, the weather was significantly better than last year, and EmBaby got her pickled eggs. (She was hoping for pickled quail eggs, but settled happily for regular old eggs when no quail eggs were to be found.)

Meanwhile, Zorak and I rode this morning. We figured we'd get out and put four or five miles behind us. We ended up going 13 miles, roughly broken down to three small hills, two huge hills, six tiny dogs, four big dogs, almost an hour of gorgeous scenery and hard work, and one wipeout there at the end (that would be me, Grace - I'm keeping the title, thank you - and the Dermaplast). It was great! Except for the dogs. I could do without being faced down by brazen growlers who take their stand in the middle of the trail when there is no other avenue available to me. :-\ On the upside, I'm pretty sure my cardio levels ramped up a time or two!

Today we also worked on the Shack a bit -- window trim and cleaning. Not so much for the exciting words, there. Wood putty, delightful as it may be, doesn't lend itself to poetic interpretation without a good deal of hyperbole.

And now, we have rain. What a beautiful way to end the day!

Kiss those babies!

Sunday, August 26

Oh! I didn't tell you about this!

The "sanitize" bit in yesterday's post reminded me. Our Big Excitement this Summer: a new washing machine! Actually, a new washing machine and dryer.

But it's all in one tub.

Yep, you put in dirty clothes and remove clean *dry* clothes. One move. I'll give you a minute to consider that.

Although perhaps you didn't need to wrap your mind around it. You may have known about it. Somehow, we seem to be the last of a handful of people to ever hear about this. (No less than three friends, when told about our new toy, squealed and said, "Oh! You are SO European/Korean!" They were pretty evenly split on the influence. But we had no clue. However, we did go with the LG. So -- Go, South Korea! You nailed the landing on this one!)

One word: Awesomeness.

Some of the reviews we read said it's not a good fit for a family because you're limited to doing only one dedicated load at a time. Meh. We've been using it for a little over a month, now, (seven people, one virus, plus allergies, chickens, and mud - that's plenty of laundry to give it a run) and I could not be happier. Yes, it does take longer to wash and dry one load at a time compared to the ideal, which looks like this:

wash one load/get it drying while you wash another load/fold the first load while the second load is drying and you wash a third load. 

But if you compare it to my usual:

wash one load/forget it's in there, getting mildewy, until I desperately NEED to do the next load so I can switch them out before bed/re-wash the first load/stay up way too late to be able to switch the second load out after the first load finally passes a sniff test... 

we're coming out ahead, my friends. So very far ahead. Add in the delayed start which allows Zorak to have freshly washed jeans in the morning, but we can still be in bed by ten. Or eleven. But if we stay up, it's by choice, not desperation. How cool is that?

It's a crazy little machine. It dries everything to perfection except for our thick towels (they take about ten minutes under a ceiling fan to finish off), and the thickest part of the crotch of jeans (again with the ceiling fan) -- and really, I don't move that quickly, anyway. Worst case scenario, I put in the next load, refill my coffee, address a handful of random interruptions, and it's all dry and ready to be put away. *with no re-washing, ever* And if I want to line dry some things, BONUS. Everything is clean and nearly-dry, even without the drying cycle. (Today, alone, I washed and hung three loads of wash, and still had time to wash/dry two more loads in the machine. So wonderful!)

The kids love it. Well, some of the "new" has probably worn off by now, but they appreciate the quiet spin cycle, and the clean clothes, and no longer needing to buy Shout in the gallon jug... It's a gift that keeps giving. I just don't know why we didn't know about these sooner!

Kiss those babies!

On Catching Up

So the kids had their plan in place:
Get up early
Hit the books hard
Spend more time reading between the writing-intensive studies to provide for stimulation and avoid death by pencil.

This was their recommendation for getting caught up to where the lesson plans said we should be. I thought it was pretty responsible (and beats what I'd have done when I was 12!)

We hit it hard on Monday. John had allergies, and he struggled, but we pushed through.

We hit it hard on Tuesday. James had allergies, too, that day, but we pushed through.

Wednesday, they mostly sat around, looking stunned, wondering that allergies could be so harsh...

Thursday, Jacob developed allergies. Or, as we began to suspect, "allergies". :groan:

Thursday evening, EmBaby and I both fell prey to what we'd been calling "allergies". I don't know what this is, but it's nassy! Since it's knocking us all down like dominoes, we're guessing it's viral. So our new plan is in place:

Vit. D
Pray this runs its course before it mutates and does another lap through the house.

It's been a documentary-heavy couple of days, here. So far, we haven't had to try out the "Sanitize" option on the washer, though. I'm counting my blessings!

Kiss those babies!

Monday, August 20

Not Like Any August, Ever

I hesitate to say anything, but this August has *rocked* in Northern Alabama. Temps have remained in the nearly-reasonable 90's, the humidity hasn't gone over 100% more than maybe twice*, and so far nothing has landed on the house or the car! Someone's been Very Good, I suspect. Wow.

So we've been braving the out-of-doors more this year -- going to the river, on hikes, to the park, canoeing. We didn't spend nearly as much time at the water park this Summer as I'd hoped to, but some of that was because we weren't sweltering and desperate for relief the whole time. (June. June was awful. But after that, Mother Nature backed off the ire and we recovered.) We did get some good use out of it, though. I only lost one child, one time (which is pretty darned good, all things considered), and nobody got burnt at all this summer! No, I take that back. Zorak and the boys all got sunburned shins on a canoe trip with the Scouts a couple of weeks back. But that wasn't on my watch, so I don't have to claim it. BOOYAH! First time, ever!

We're in Week 5 at school, and so far, we're... pretty darned slow. Wow. We seem busy. We feel busy. But we're not laying tracks like we'd thought. So today, the kids brainstormed a new schedule, to be implemented tomorrow morning. No clue how it's going to go, but finding out is half the adventure, right? (That face you just made? Same one they made when I used that phrase this morning.) In all, though, it's going really well. EmBaby's reading more fluidly - her accent is killing us in the phonics, but she's starting to clear those hurdles. (I've never had one with an accent before. This is a whole new ballgame!) Jacob's just rolling through it to get to the books. I can't keep him in books. (Yeah, I know. Third child this age, you'd think he'd be inundated. I guess not.) John finally got a good callous from playing guitar. He feels legit, now, and it's given him a renewed vigor in many areas. And James is kicking into high gear is so many areas. Mostly after 11:30 or so in the morning, but once he's caught a gear, he can *go*.

For me, the big excitement so far was hearing John announce that he *likes* Latin. One day, Dwane Thomas at Visual Latin, and the good folks at Memoria Press (thank you for First Form!) will receive cookies, or brownies, or a copy of someone's NLE results with a thank you note. That's some crazy joy, there.

And the rest of Summer? Well, things don't always go as planned. We did get the sand - uh, this past Saturday. The windows we'd been putting in, one at a time, all went on clearance (not to be re-stocked  - ACK!) so we snagged all we needed in one size, and we now have new windows along the whole front of the house. We'll be eating beans and rice for the next three months, but the marked improvement in insulation is worth it already.

Oh, and okra! Our mad gardening skills have once again yielded insane amounts of okra. Not much else - maybe one cucumber, a handful of squash, two and a half tomatoes... we'll spend the Autumn pickling okra and giving thanks that we do not have to rely solely on what we grew for Winter sustenance. Again. Amen.

Kiss those babies!

* Tongue in cheek. Mostly.

Monday, July 2

Liberty Lee's Tail of Independence

Welcome to TLC Book Tours' virtual tour of Liberty Lee's Tail of Independence.

This picture book, written by Peter W. Barnes and Cheryl Shaw Barnes, published by Little Patriot Press, is an illustrated poem that tells the tale of America's founding through the narrative lens of a mouse counterpart to the Framers of the Constitution, the title character, Liberty Lee.

I wasn't expecting a poem. It's enough of an undertaking to explain everything from Colonization to the Battle at Lexington and Concord to a target audience of squirrelly 4-6 year-olds, without trying to do it in rhyme. Yet, they've done it, and surprisingly well, as long as the reader can avoid falling into the cadence pit. The authors did not skimp on vocabulary, but used traditional verbiage connected with the American Revolution. I appreciated that. It helps make this story more than a mere sing-song tale that one tires of reading after one or two rounds.

It took us a full two weeks to read the story, not due to rhythm issues, or wordiness, but as a result of the illustrations. They are vivid, and rich. They look simple, but are incredibly detailed. Each illustration (most are full, two-page spreads) offers a panorama of delightful scenes to unfold and delve into. The detail is fantastic, and it's not unusual for the children to spend ten or fifteen minutes going over every vignette on a page.

This isn't a book they'll want to fly through, and if you try, you'll be frustrated. Liberty Lee's Tail of Independence is the kind of book you meander through, letting your children show you all there is to explore, doubling back, spinning off for a while on inspired tangents, eventually settling back down to continue the journey.

There are additional bonus features for adults and children. The children enjoyed finding Liberty Lee (or one of his ancestors) tucked away in each page. There is also an eagle hidden in each illustration. (It's not always the whole eagle - sometimes it's just his head. It's a nice added layer for older, or more ambitious, children to take up after they've found all the mice, and poured over the other scenes.)

The Tail End offers additional tidbits of information and resources designated for parents and teachers.

In sum, we enjoyed this book. The authors attempted to cover a lot of ground in a condensed space, and the narrative doesn't flow as smoothly as I would prefer for a storybook, but it is solid, and unabashedly designed to be an uplifting, encouraging story, which the authors performed nicely. The illustrations tie the story together well. It's the combination, though, that makes it the type of picture book I'd want to have on my shelf: a good story that piques the children's imaginations, set among lavish, many-layered illustrations that draw in a child's eye and mind. I love that, and I enjoyed this book, on many levels.

Kiss those babies ~ and keep reading with them!

Wednesday, June 27

The Push Continues

We're still pushing hard to get our affairs in order. The house-cleaning project will probably continue for another couple of months, as we freshen paint and finish the details on projects that stagnated once they hit "functional". (Our Family Motto seems to be: It Doesn't Have to Be Pretty to Be Functional ~or, more accurately, If It's Functional, That's As Good As It's Gonna Get. I need to see about getting that changed before we get to the point of ordering engraved items.)

After James' last physical, his doctor had suggested some strength training to help combat the growing pains he's experiencing. So he and I have been working out regularly, using You Are Your Own Gym. He is an absolutely hilarious workout partner, with a very positive attitude and a willingness to slog through new things with flair. Although I can't say this is "fun", it's getting done. And we laugh. A lot. Mostly at me. But it's good stuff.

This is our last week of break before heading into the next term of the year. We didn't intend to take off all of June (instead of just the first two weeks, for camps), but the weather was too beautiful to spend indoors. It's... not, now. And I have a suspicion that we'll more than make up for it when the heat that's now moved in stays through September, so it's all good. We need something to do in the afternoons other than watching Eureka, right?

The kids were invited to VBS with some friends this week. Jacob was reluctant to go, but agreed to an extension of our "One Honest Bite" approach to life (that started with food, but anything that applies to food can be applied to any element of life, so it gets wide use around here). EmBaby got wind that there would be crafts, and she was IN. Oh, yeah! Jase wanted to want to go, but he wasn't so sure. It was loud. And... well, loud. (We don't go to a loud church, and this was all very new to him.) He said it was scary, so I told him he didn't have to stay and we headed out. The ladies at registration were gracious and kind, and utterly accomodating, but you know, he's four. There's not a single thing he would get from a few hours at VBS that he won't pick up elsewhere in his life over the next umpteen years. (And if there is, then we're doing something wrong. Which we may be, but not with this.) We got back to pick up Jacob and Em a bit early, so we sat in the back to listen to the closing announcements and songs. That's when I realized he was not convinced this was a Good Place To Be, and that he viewed the whole retrieval less as a routine pick up, and more as a SpecOps extraction. We navigated the fine line of Awkward Situations for a bit (thankfully, it was loud, so I don't think anybody overheard our exchange), and escaped without causing a scene.

(Jacob and Em both had a blast, and were thrilled to learn they could go back each evening this week. After hearing that, Jase decided he'd give it One Honest Bite, too, and he stayed tonight, tentative and anxious, holding Em's hand. He says he loved it. Zorak said he was dancing and singing when Z arrived to pick them up. I'm proud of him for giving it a shot, but was also proud of him for knowing it's safe to say, "no, thank you", as well.)

Now, to reconfigure the menu for being in and out all week! :-s

Kiss those babies!

Sunday, June 24

Whoa! Where'd the week go?

John turned twelve this week. (He lobbied to be promoted to 15, as he swears he's been 11 for three years and we need to set the balance right.)

Thanks to the envelope system, there was enough cash in the gift envelope to take him to the drive-in to see The Avengers. Do you remember going to the drive-in when you were a child? Yeah, it's still awesome. Of course, as an adult with children in town, it is also a little aggravating. (The Bigs totally "got" it, and they were fantastic. My plan to set the littles up with their own cushy paradise inside the Suburban, where they could play quietly? That didn't pan out. So, even having braced myself to be okay with a certain level of aggravation, the littles far surpassed that. Crazy little overachievers. :eyeroll:) Friends came with us, which was doubly cool. (And you know they're loved, because the children spent half the time in their car, as well!)

We'll pop it in the queue with Netflix and watch it again when it comes out. I don't think Zorak or I have laughed so hard, or enjoyed a movie quite so much in a long time. (Even when you factor in the littles.) I do think we'll try the drive-in again, though, after making some adjustments (or finding a sitter) for the littles. The Bigs really got into it, and they were a riot.

The last of the chicks are now in the barn! Hallelujah! They all seem happy there, and I know I'm downright giddy with reclaiming the space.

After an embarrassingly long time, I've finally painted the two bedroom doors that never got painted. Most of the delay has been that the basement is always in use as something far too messy for painting to occur concurrently. So this week, while it was empty and relatively clean, I went to work. It's impressive how nice a freshly painted door looks (especially when one's standards have been lowered, by notches, to a shocking degree).

We are down to one toy shelf, *and* there's an empty bookshelf on the front porch, slated for life with someone else. It's a pretty crappy bookshelf, and we've used it well beyond its appointed time. But it still stays upright, the shelves aren't too saggy, and so it's functional. I can't bring myself to toss something functional. Not sure how to get it to the donation site, though. (DAV will come pick up, but we'd need to have a pile to justify asking them to bring the truck out and use more in gas than they'd have spent just buying a new shelf.)

The okra is doing beautifully with our system of gardening by benign neglect.

We did get James' desk and computer into his room, and he's standing ten feet tall right now. Possibly even bulletproof.

So. That's where the week went. Makes perfect sense.
Kiss those babies!

Wednesday, June 20

The Cleaning End of Limbo

Monday and Tuesday, we got ruthless with the Stuff around here. I feel like a Big Ol' Meanie even saying that, because we don't have a lot of Stuff, relatively speaking. (OK, the Legos are getting out of hand. But four of the kids use them, often playing together, and it was my own fault for letting them into the house in the first place. They start out so innocuously, with those little $4.99 packets that come with one or two figurines and a couple of extra parts. There's no warning label on the packet that tells you you've just released the plastic equivalent of the Plague on your home.) But for the most part, it's not been bad. We have two toy shelves, which hold a total of nine medium Sterlite tubs, and 12 small ones. Each bin holds a specific item (hand puppets, magnetics, tanagrams, plastic cowboys/indians/army men, wooden blocks, etc.), and each child has one of the small ones for his/her own special things (sketches, pen innards, rocks - you know, Precious Things that I might mistakenly toss because I don't know better). Still, the Stuff had grown unwieldy.

So Monday, thinking to start easy, I began with the master bedroom. *snort* We did clear out a lot - mostly from under the bed, which held enough random stuff to make me wonder if everyone I live with is using it as a Room of Requirement. Then the drawers. Then the nooks and crannies, where things fall, gather dust, and become terrain for spiders. I thought I'd get rid of most of my yarn, as it's mostly cheap yarn and doesn't crochet up into anything comfortable, but Jacob gasped and said, "Mom! That's an almost endless supply of STRING!" He may have inherited The Gene... Anyway, I'm not done in there, but I gave up. The yarn is in the craft closet.

Tuesday, we tackled the toy shelves and a bookcase. All the VHS tapes? Gone. That freed up three shelves' of space. (I have no idea where we'll sit today, though, as they're all in the car to be dropped in town.) Then, on to the toys - things we've been promising we'll use "now that we know where they are" -- for the past three cullings -- are off to find a new home. Even now, nearly 14 years into this gig, there's a deviation between how I envision our family and our days should look, and how they really look. I needed to let go of the dream and embrace the weird. It's all good. Plus, we culled and cleaned the things that there is no one left to play with, now. No babies, no toddlers. Even Jase prefers the smaller Legos to the 1" Duplos.

So, in the end, we culled quite a bit. Enough that if we find a new place for the boys to keep their Special Buckets, we can now remove one of the toy shelves from a bedroom! That'll be a whole extra six square feet of living space we'll gain! (Which is roughly equivalent to enough space for all of us to stand side-by-side and stare at the wall. I know this. Still, it makes me giddy.)  Next, I hope to square things away well enough to remove the large book case from James' room and replace it with his desk. That's all kinds of exciting, when you don't get out much.

Kiss those babies!